The Dragon's Going to ISS Feb 7!

Hooray!  SpaceX has a launch date for the Dragon  Feb 7!  The NASA Press release is here, but here are the highlights:

*  The Dragon will first do a fly-by at about 2 miles away from the station in order to check its sensors and other systems needed for a safe docking.
*  When the Dragon docks, the ISS will use its robotic arm to assist.  (It doesn't say why that is so.  I had thought from the videos that it would dock on its own.)
*  SpaceX is, of course, the first commercial craft to dock with the International Space Station, so this is history in the making.
*  SpaceX has completed 36 of 40 of the milestones disctated to it under the COTS agreement, for which it will receive a total of 288 million dollars.  (To compare, the space shuttle Endeavor cost 1.7 billion dollars.)

Of course, the next step for the Dragon and SpaceX is to finish the modifications that make it manned-approved.  SpaceX has suggested that the Dragon is manned capable.  However, there are certain modifications, like an escape system, that NASA is requiring.  (Not a bad idea considering the Shuttle disasters.)

Forbes Magazine says that in light of the problems that the Russians have been having with their program lately, getting commercial flights going.  Considering the latest report on how they were working on Phobos-Grunt, including soldering it while full of highly explosive rocket fuel, I'm even more glad to see us making progress toward domestic services. I had been seeing reports that the Dragon's maiden flight might get pushed off as far as April.  I wonder, did the Phobos-Grunt failure (and subsequent revelations) perhaps nudge someone in the bureaucracy to accelerate the schedule? 

According to NASA, SpaceX has really put their nose to the grindstone to fix problems NASA pointed out:  "SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. There's oddly nothing on SpaceX's website about this yet.  I wonder if their web guru is on vacation, or if the small company had just been putting its efforts elsewhere.  Whichever, congrats to SpaceX and Happy Flynig!

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